Howard County citizens debated Monday night whether and how to change the makeup of the school board to allow for more racial and geographic representation.
Sentiment was about evenly split between those who argued that the at-large election of school board members should remain as is, and those who supported changes such as appointing members or electing them by district. Some residents are concerned about a lack of representation of racial minorities and of certain areas, such as Ekridge.
County Executive Ken Ulman formed the Howard County School Board Study Commission last month to examine the structure and gave the panel until Sept. 26 to recommend a means to foster diversity on the seven-member, nonpartisan board. The school board had been selected by the governor until the early 1970s, when it became a totally elected board.
Among those arguing before the commission members that the board should reflect the county's racial makeup was state Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat.
"I believe we should have at least one member of color on this board," he said. "That doesn't say it has to be just one, but at least one. It gives a sense of pride in the community. It's important to say, 'Oh, there is a person on the school board.'
"This is now a majority minority county," he said, "and being so we ought to consider that as we move ahead. Not to say that that the school board members aren't doing a good job, but together we need to have a voice on those issues."
Former board member Diane Mikulis of Columbia said that while representation by district sounds advantageous, as an at-large member she went throughout the county and learned much from doing so. She said selecting board members by district would result in board members "being advocates for their particular area."
Though most residents considered the issue, first-year school board member Brian Meshkin vehemently opposed the forming of the commission.
"As citizens of Howard County we are blessed to live in one of the safest, most affluent, most educated communities in the history of human civilization," said Meshkin. "Howard County is not great because of its government or its schools. Howard County is great because of its people.
"Our government has plentiful resources and our schools are good because our taxpayers and the families our students come from," Meshkin added. "It's silly to think that anyone, including the county executive, could believe that government knows better than the people it serves."